Chief Reggie Neeposh and the Nation of Oujé-Bougoumou took another step forward in affirming the role of Eeyou Istchee as stewards of the land and protectors of the environment on June 15. Neeposh signed memorandums of understanding (MOUs) with Mayors Manon Cyr of Chibougamau and Steve Gamache from Chapais, marking a two-fold agreement between the three communities and plans for future collaboration in sustainability and economic development.
Chibougamau has committed to take action to mitigate the contamination caused by the now-abandoned Principale mine, while Chapais has agreed to team up with Oujé-Bougoumou to coordinate potential future energy developments taking place on Cree land. The two agreements aim to be mutually beneficial, creating jobs for local residents and focusing on long-term sustainability for the entire region.
In his address at the signing, Neeposh stated that these MOUs are a natural continuation of the Governance Agreement, provincial legislation established two years ago between the Cree Nation and Quebec that created the Eeyou Istchee/James Bay Regional Government and extended the authority of the Cree Nation Government over its traditional lands.
“This landmark innovation created a very new and far-sighted relationship among all residents of the territory which was based on mutual respect and recognition of mutual interests and common concerns,” Neeposh declared. “The Memorandums of Understanding that we are signing today are a reflection of the hard work and the good intentions of the communities in this region to give life to our new Regional Government and to demonstrate its fundamental wisdom. These are the vehicles through which our communities will collaborate on various development projects within our region.”
Neeposh cited the heavy metal contamination in Doré Lake as a serious environmental concern, one that the Cree of Oujé-Bougoumou have long fought to remedy. He described the lake as a source of sustenance for the community and said his people are pleased to see that their efforts to bring attention to the contamination have resulted in a restoration plan. He also mentioned that Oujé-Bougoumou looks forward to collaborating with the people of Chibougamau.
Oujé-Bougoumou’s agreement with Chapais will fund feasibility studies to determine the viability of a number of potential development projects linked to energy production at the Chapais cogeneration plant. Should any of these projects prove to be worth pursuing, they will be undertaken as joint ventures.
Neeposh told the Nation that he was pleased with the meetings and the agreements. He noted that this is something envisioned by his community for many years and that the MOUs assert the Cree Nation’s role in maintaining and preserving the land of northern Quebec.
“The towns know that we’re not going away, we’ve always been here and we always will be. It’s also sending a message to Quebec, letting them know that they need to respect our agreements. The municipalities in our region need to know that we’re a very cooperative people, there’s no need to approach things in a confrontational style. We breathe the same air; we drink the same water. We had some issues we had to deal with and we’re happy that we’re all sitting at the same table.”
Neeposh commended the openness demonstrated by the leaders of Chibougamau and Chapais in his closing remarks at the MOU signing, citing collaboration and communication as the means to establishing better relationships in James Bay territory.
“As a result of an openness on the part of Mayor Cyr and Mayor Gamache to create a new and genuinely respectful relationship we have maintained very open, useful discussions and dialogue on issues that we face in common. These documents take us further along our new journey toward a new future, which we will create together.”